Maddy is a recent graduate from Penn State University where she studied Recreation, Park, and Tourism Management. She is very passionate about community development, social justice, youth engagement, and tourism after spending nine months in South America before university. This experience challenged her beliefs and allowed her to see how communities globally were governed and take part in relationships that transcended borders. She has been working on creating the Global Youth Engagement Program in partnership with the Club of Rome and the Penn State Sustainability Institute. She is enthusiastic about youth being able to influence change for their futures and wants to ensure there is a platform for ALL youth to be able to do so.
What is something adults do not understand about youth? What is a common misconception they have about young people?
A common misconception that adults have about youth is that they lack the knowledge and experiences that are integral in making change. Although some youth may not have the formalized education that some adults have, that doesn’t mean that they aren’t experiencing some of our world’s greatest challenges. Youth experience climate change, gender inequality, discrimination, and so much more but don’t get taken serious and aren’t provided a platform to voice their concerns.
What was the first moment of enlightenment that encouraged you to take action for the society you live in?
During part of my gap year in South America, I spent some time in the Intag region of Ecuador. I saw firsthand the effects of the mining industry on not only the environment, but the quality of life for those residing in the region. It was the first opportunity I had that I saw how environmentalism was so much more than “tree-huggers” and recycling. It became prevalent to me that the mining industry here were intentionally silencing activists and destroying people’s homes simply to make a profit. I knew this was not an isolated incident but that it was happening in communities worldwide that didn’t have the resources or political governance to keep this from happening.
What are the projects you are currently working on? What are the challenges you and your organisation are facing today?
Currently, the Global Youth Engagement Program is hosting our Listening Session initiative. Through this, our youth associates are convening groups of youth in their communities to hear the concerns and hopes they have for their community, as well as what skills or resources they need to tackle these challenges. One challenge that we’re facing is reaching the voices that are often unheard — those in rural communities without internet access and those who are Indigenous. In order to fully understand the issues that are facing youth today, we need to be able to hear from ALL youth.
How would you like adults to help you in your initiative?
For any adult who would want to help out, we would love it if you were able to connect us to small nonprofits in your communities so that we could host these listening sessions and hear from the youth in your area. Secondly, adults tend to create unnecessary barriers to entry for youth so I would encourage you to think how you might alleviate those barriers — whether this be youth getting a job, starting an entrepreneurial venture, pursuing further education, or running for local government. How could you create spaces that promote inclusion regardless of knowledge, experience, and connections?
What is your advice for young people who want to make a positive impact? How should they begin?
Do something! The first step is always the hardest. You could start volunteering for a nonprofit or government office. You can start a garden or walk everywhere. You can start taking classes at your local university and develop skills. There are endless things that you could be doing but the most important thing is that you get started somewhere! Additionally, you are always welcome to join the Global Youth Engagement Program too — you can find more information here: https://globalyouthprogram.weebly.com/associate.html
(Photo courtesy of Maddy Mitchell, copyright: Maddy Mitchell)